The Real Thing
Theatre Royal Bath
Stoppard’s once again having a moment, what with the recent champagne revival in London of Travesties and the success of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Old Vic.
And now we have director Stephen Unwin’s new production of The Real Thing, Stoppard’s humorous examination of infidelity, on tour to Bath.
Sadly, however, this latest revival lacks sparkle largely because its star Laurence Fox mumbles, to the extent that we miss much of the cut and thrust of wit that is the essence of this drama.
Stoppard is a genius at delivering words and ideas with the speed and lightness of a finely sprung cricket bat – to make use of his own metaphor from this very play – while Fox delivers with a lump of wood.
To be fair, the TV star (best known as DS Hathaway in Lewis from 2006 to 2015) enlivens as he goes along and so the second half of the show picks up pace.
Fox plays successful dramatist Henry whose actress wife Charlotte (Rebecca Johnson) is in a play he has written about a couple whose marriage is on the rocks. Henry meanwhile is having an affair with Annie (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) whose own husband Max (Adam Jackson-Smith) is Charlotte’s leading man.
By the second act Henry has left Charlotte and is living with Annie who stars in a play . . . and so the convoluted plot unfolds.
Life imitates art and sometimes the boundaries between the two are blurred, onstage and as the playwright himself well knew. Stoppard wittily airs the philosophy, the morality and the nature of love – both unrequited and the real thing – through his mouthpiece Henry.
But it is Henry’s daughter Debbie (an engaging Venice Van Someren) who cuts through her father’s cleverly worded deliberations, telling him: “No, it was about did she have it off or didn’t she? And what if she did?” A sentiment that may well get a different response today than when the play was first staged 35 years ago.
For all its inherent humour, and generally good performances – including from minor characters Kit Young as Annie’s lover Billie and Santino Smith’s brief appearance as the reactionary Brodie – there is something static about this production. Even the music from Henry’s Desert Island Discs selection that accompany scene chances can’t lift it.
But it’s early in the tour and at Tuesday’s performance Fox totally won over the audience with an off-script response to a technical glitch that brought forth cheers and a round of applause. Henry gained our sympathy by the end.